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DAY OF PRAYER AND CELEBRATION (CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT) From left to right, Fr. Andres Rivera, Fr. Ismael Valenzuela-Salazar, Bishop Emeritus Gerald R. Barnes, Bishop Alberto Rojas, Fr. Jorge Tellez and Fr. Michael Arịnze Ezeoke pose after the Ordination Mass on May 28 at Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga. // Bishop Rojas anoints Fr. Michael Arịnze Ezeoke’s hands with holy oil. // Fr. Andres Rivera gives his first blessing as a priest to his family. // Bishop Rojas ordains Fr. Jorge Tellez to the priesthood by laying hands on him. // The four men lie prostrate in prayer moments before their Ordination as a sign of their dependence on God. // Bishop Rojas embraces Fr. Ismael Valenzuela-Salazar to congratulate him on his Ordination.

By Anneliese Esparza
Managing Editor

Laypeople, religious, deacons and priests filled Sacred Heart Church in Rancho Cucamonga on May 28 to joyfully welcome four new priests – Father Michael Arịnze Ezeoke, Father Andres Rivera, Father Jorge Tellez and Father Ismael Valenzuela-Salazar – to the Diocese in an emotional and spirit-filled Ordination Mass.

“The Lord Jesus has chosen each one of you from among many other young men to give you the gift of the priesthood,” Bishop Alberto Rojas told the four men during his homily. “This is not an achievement of your own making; this is a gift you have accepted, and Jesus wants you to share it with his people in his mission of saving souls. He wants you to use it as servants, with hearts full of God’s love to go out into the world.

“The greatest strength in your ministry will be the Eucharist and your relationship with the Lord Jesus in your prayers. Make the Eucharist the center of your life. Live your lives for and from the Mass. Always remember that your ministry as servants is not about you, but about Jesus in you for his people,” added Bishop Rojas. Bishop Emeritus Gerald Barnes, who had admitted each of the four candidates to St. Junipero Serra House of Formation to begin their journey to the priesthood, concelebrated the Mass with Bishop Rojas.

The liturgy featured singing and readings in several different languages, a reflection of the many cultures that call our Diocese home. Given that Fr. Ezeoke is the first African born priest to be ordained for the Diocese, the African community was especially prominent at the liturgy.

The Ordination itself takes place with the laying of hands by the Bishop and the Prayer of Consecration, but there are many other rituals within the Rite of Ordination. One of the most iconic moments of an Ordination takes place just before the laying of the hands – the candidates’ prostration on the floor while the congregation prays the Litany of Saints. The congregation sang along with the choir in invoking the holy men and women of the Church to pray for the four men as they prepared for the moment in which they would be ordained priests.

Quiet, instrumental music was played and the congregation prayed in silence as Bishop Rojas and his brother priests laid hands on the four men, transforming them into priests of the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Afterwards, the new priests were clothed with the stole and chasuble, prompting the enthusiastic, prolonged applause of the congregation. The anointing of the hands, the presentation of the paten and chalice and the kiss of peace concluded the Rite of Ordination.

After Communion, two of the new priests took to the podium to share some remarks, including Fr. Rivera. “I would like to thank almighty God, who has called us to this beautiful and amazing journey, and to all of the people that he has placed in our path throughout the years, because it is every single one of you who has encountered us and has supported us that has helped us to be who we are today. We thank you for each and every moment and word of encouragement and support that you have offered to us,” said Fr. Rivera.

“I ask that you continue to pray and journey with us as we begin our new ministry, so that in everything that we do and say, we as priests may glorify God and give him thanks, as we go on in service to God and to his people,” he added.

Before the ending procession, Bishop Rojas announced where the four new priests would be assigned as parochial vicars: Fr. Michael Arịnze Ezeoke at The Holy Name of Jesus, Redlands; Fr. Andres Rivera at St. Peter & St. Paul, Alta Loma; Fr. Jorge Tellez at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Ontario; and Fr. Ismael Valenzuela-Salazar at Holy Innocents, Victorville.

The congregation went forth after the Mass with a spirit of gratitude and celebration. Many received a blessing from one of the new priests or enjoyed a luncheon in the parish hall.

“I feel excited, happy and thankful,” said Fr. Valenzuela-Salazar moments after the Ordination Mass had ended. “I feel so much gratitude for all I have received.”

“I’m looking forward, as Bishop mentioned, to being a merciful priest, to serve the Diocese, and to be open to receiving people, to bring Jesus to people,” he added.